Latinx culture shines through Hispanic Heritage Month events

Over 300 students attended the Latinx Student Organization’s first dance, or “Baile.”

Emma Malinak

“We appreciate you, we notice you, and we want to recognize and empower you so you feel welcome here.”

Fiorela Giraldo Prado de Lewis, program coordinator for the Office of Inclusion and Engagement, shared this sentiment as she reflected on the significance of the Hispanic Heritage celebrations held over the past weeks. 

With the perseverance of the Latinx Student Organization (LSO) and support from the newly-expanded staff at the Office of Inclusion and Engagement (OIE), Hispanic culture was celebrated on campus like never before.

Hispanic Heritage Month runs annually from Sep. 15, the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, to Oct. 15 and celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of people whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

Carolina Rubio Regalado, ’22, co-president of LSO, shared the club’s goal for the heritage events this year.

“Although the population of Latinx students is small on our campus, we want the incoming classes and others to know that we are still a strong and present community on campus. There are many backgrounds and cultures represented among our members and Hispanic Heritage Month gives us the chance to highlight that,” Regalado said.

To make up for time lost to the pandemic in the 2020-2021 school year, LSO worked hard to ensure that Hispanic Heritage Month was properly celebrated this year. The club, in collaboration with Student Activities and OIE, initiated the festivities on Sep. 15 with a visit from Tres Veces Feliz Taco Truck. 

More than 400 students, staff and community members attended this kick-off event on Cannan Green, and even President Dudley was seen enjoying the food and music.

LSO continued their events throughout September, hosting a Latino Hits karaoke night with FUDG, an outdoor dinner with the organization’s Sponsor, Lorri Olan, and a picnic on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

The celebrations were concluded Oct. 9 with a Baile, which translates to “dance” in English, as a way to create a space in which Latin music, dancing and identity could be appreciated.

“I think it was something that was really needed with all that has happened at the university in the past few years and the pandemic. They [LSO] really wanted to express and celebrate their culture,” Prado de Lewis said.

Even though this was the first dance ever hosted by LSO, over 300 students attended. The event required masks and was free of charge to guests, making it a safe and accessible dance for all. 

Highlights from Baile include a delicious dessert bar, a surprise spotlight dance performed by LSO members Valentina Lozano, ’25 and Armando Mendez, ’24, the sparkly attire worn to fit the “let your culture SHINE” theme and four hours of non-stop Latin music.

This chance to celebrate Hispanic culture was important for Baile attendee, Ana Montano Martinez, ’25, who explained, “It made campus feel like I was at home.”

“For almost everyone in the Latinx community, we grew up around amazing music, food and family,” Martinez said. “That’s why the Baile is so important, because it brought together my favorite people with all of my favorite things.” 

The dance also provided LSO with a platform to give back to local Hispanic communities; they collected donations at the event for the Latinos in Virginia Empowerment Center, an organization based in Richmond that provides shelter, food, English lessons and an emergency hotline for members of the Latinx community facing domestic, sexual or terroristic violence.

With the momentum generated from Baile and the other events of Hispanic Heritage Month, LSO has plans to continue giving back to the community and initiating campus-wide engagement. Updates can be found on their Instagram @wlulso.

OIE expressed their excitement for future events, explaining that while this year was all about celebrating, future heritage months could include speakers and workshops to educate students who may not understand the significance of Latinx culture. As long as students continue to engage in inclusion initiatives, the administration will continue to fund and support events like Baile, making them an annual tradition.

Dani Roberts, assistant director of inclusion and engagement, spoke on the importance of continued heritage celebrations.

“This is not a solitary occurrence. You will see many more opportunities that highlight other heritage months and history months. That’s how we build a more inclusive community,” Roberts said.